Sunday, February 24, 2013

Good Little Psychopath

She's a good little psychopath. I'm talking about Jody Arias, the young woman currently on trial in Arizona. Actually she's on trial in the media, as CNN's sister station, HLN is broadcasting much of the trial daily. Arias, who now admits to shooting and then stabbing her former boyfriend, is putting on a clinic in how a pathological personality works. She's arrogant and glib, she turns on the tears, and most of all, she's secure in her own belief that she is in control of everything. So we watch. And marvel at the workings of the pathological personality. It's estimated that one in 100 have that blank look in their eyes. That's a lot of people with no moral emotions. Gone. Missing. Not there. Never been there. Sometimes their victims, those who survive, want to know why? That is they only question they will ask. Trouble is, they can't answer. They are wired differently. They don't experience empathy. They can't make that leap. When we think of this personality disorder, now known as a sociopath, we think of serial killers. We think of twisted school shooters, or rapists, or those that torture, with masochistic tendencies. Does it seem like there are more psychopaths than there used to be? Perhaps it is our ability to recognize them or at least their existence that has increased. They are as deceptive as the human personality can be. They are smooth talkers who find it easier to lie than tell the truth. Polygraphs tests are useless. The psychopath plays on the healthy personality's tendency to trust and believe other people. Years ago, before we knew about some of the more stunning and sensationalized mass murderers, the psychopath could operate with relative ease. In Erik Larsen's acclaimed book, The Devil in the White City, we meet Dr. H.H. Holmes the notorious serial killer who operated in, at, and around the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. With a long history of aliases and a penchant for scamming, deceiving, and ultimately killing his victims, Holmes himself found it difficult at times to understand how people could be so trusting, so gullible, so easily duped. That we want to believe people is no doubt at the core of his incredulity. An assertive yet charming personality goes a long way. As a friend of mine likes to say, "You would buy a used car from this man. There is a caveat, however. Before we start putting labels on people it's crucially important to be certain, or at least reasonably certain that you are correct. Otherwise the consequences are both dire and self-defeating. Often the sociopath will exhibit this lack of empathy early on in childhood. They abuse animals, pets, insects, their playmates, and yes, their parents. "We Need to Talk About Kevin" is a movie that illustrates the latter in remarkable yet frighteningly graphic fashion. In recent years we've learned a good deal about childhood disorders like Reactive Attachment Disorder and Oppositional Disorder. Sometimes children that have been adopted after an early upbringing at an Eastern European orphanage display these qualities most alarmingly. A family member of mine has an adopted son who fints in this category in many ways. Again, it's a complicated disorder that some display and others do not. And that brings us back to Jody Arias. Not an adopted child, definitely a lack of moral emotions. I marveled at her answer to her defense attorney while on the stand. Asked directly if she killed her boyfriend, (after denyng it originally) she had a terse, 3 word reply. "Yes I did." It was as if the question had been did you go to church last Sunday? She's a good little psychopath.

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